Astro Pi Mission

Two augmented Raspberry Pi computers (called Astro Pis) were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake’s mission. They are both equipped with the mighty Sense HAT that can measure the environment inside the station, detect how it’s moving through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field. Each Astro Pi is also equipped with a different kind of camera; one has an infrared camera, and the other has a standard visible spectrum camera.

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The Astro Pi flight case

What would you do with this equipment? Look for cosmic rays? Make a time-lapse of the Earth through a hatch window? Maybe just have Tim play games on it?

This was the premise of the Astro Pi competition, which closed in July 2015. School-age students all over the UK were invited to devise computer science experiments for Tim to run on board the ISS. These experiments were in the form of Python programs written and tested by the students, using their own Sense HATs and Raspberry Pis.

Seven winning programs, part of the Astro Pi payload, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida in December 2015. They ranged from fun reaction time games to real science experiments looking at radiation in space.

During the mission, Tim deployed the Astro Pis inside the European Columbus module, and ran each of the student programs in sequence. The results were downloaded back to Earth and are now available on this site for all to see.

Once all the student experiments had finished, a long-term ISS environmental monitoring program ran that produced a CSV file full of timestamped sensor readings. We have provided educational resources to help you download and analyse this, in order to figure out what was happening on the station.

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Columbus ISS Training Module in Germany – Image credit ESA

The Astro Pis are now involved in a new challenge, where schoolchildren from all over Europe write programs for French ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet to run on his Proxima mission. You can find out more here.